For the second consecutive year, Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers arrived for the winner-take-all championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the favorites to claim the Sprint Cup Series title.
But unlike 2014, when Harvick and Childers captured the championship and the win in their first season together, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy come up one position short as Harvick finished runner-up in the race and the standings to fellow Championship 4 driver Kyle Busch.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com, Childers offered some perspective on what went wrong for the No. 4 bunch in a race that saw Harvick place second among the four championship-eligible drivers.
Article continues below ...
"You look back on the weekend and you’re always going to wish you did some things differently," Childers said. "Maybe some of our changes for the race might have hurt instead of helped, but you’ve got to try, and if you feel like you’re not quite as good as those guys on Saturday afternoon, then you’ve got to at least go for it, and that’s what we did, and just never did hit it right. But definitely proud of all these guys and proud of the effort. It’s been a helluva year and a lot of fun to come to the racetrack with all of these guys."
After starting the race from the 13th position, Harvick quickly began moving toward the front and eventually led 46 of the race’s 267 laps. But the 2014 champ was no match down the stretch for Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which was running third on the track but several seconds ahead of Harvick when a caution for debris bunched up the field and sent the leaders to pit road with 10 laps to go.
"That was definitely our only shot," Childers said. "I figured we were going to be too tight, so I tried to free it up with some air pressure and some wedge, and it just wasn’t enough. He was still way too tight at the end. Just needed a little bit more, but all in all we had good stops all night and the guys did a great job on pit road and we brought a great car here. We won the race last year and finished second this year, so really not all that bad."
Although Harvick was able to move up to second following the final restart, it wasn’t enough for him to run down Busch, who lined up on the outside of the front row, quickly took the lead and set sail.
Entering the weekend, Harvick downplayed the popular notion that he was the clear man to beat among the Championship 4 — which also consisted of Busch, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr.
"I felt like it was going to be a little harder than last year," the veteran crew chief said. "I felt like last year even at this point in the season we had a little bit of a motor advantage on those guys and if we got our cars pretty close, we could still beat them. This year it seemed like everybody was just so equal from that standpoint."
"Our guys at Hendrick have done a good job, and I felt like we were equal to them and definitely not down (on horsepower) but it’s just that little bit that you don’t have that we had last year — that advantage," Childers said. "So when that’s the case, your car’s got to be absolutely perfect, and it just wasn’t perfect and nothing we did made it that much better. It wasn’t from lack of effort. The guys did a good job and we did the best we could."
"I’m not too disappointed," Childers said. "We’ve had an excellent two years, and everybody has done a great job, and we’ve won a lot of races and sat on a lot of poles, led a lot of laps, a lot of top twos, top threes, top fives and all that good stuff. Everybody on this team has worked really, really hard."
And for Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas, all that effort is what made leaving Homestead empty-handed so hard to swallow.
"It’s very frustrating," Haas said. "There’s a lot of work that goes into doing this all year long, and when you come that close, you really want to close the door and win something. But I know the 18 team worked as hard as we did, too."